Monday, April 30, 2012

Foraging: Scout Camp Wild Strawberries & Pie

Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did. – William Allen Butler

This is what I'll find in about 2 months. Photo: queteris, Flickr ccl
Henry, my Bouvier, and I were visiting in the country recently and decided to take a walk up to the lake. I suppose to be correct I should say “I decided” because he didn’t really have much choice in the destination. But he’s always glad to tag along.

This plaque used to be mounted above the fireplace.
Usually we walk up one particular side of the river to a small beach at the foot of the lake. This day I opted for the other side. I hadn’t been up there since Simon, my other Bouv, was alive.

There used to be an old Boy Scout camp located in a clearing almost directly across the lake from the beach. Some time in the past several years it was razed to the ground. All that’s left there now is bronze dedication plaque mounted on a stone with the date 1935.

It’s kind of sad. I have some strong memories of my 1960s childhood linked to that place. At one time it had a 8’ diving structure that many of the children of the village used in the heat of summer. We were only allowed on the property when the camp wasn’t being used by the Scouts. I remember being pushed off that on more than one occasion. 

The blossoms, open now.
I was short for my age (still am…), and since my mother was the local schoolteacher I was fair game for anyone to vent their frustration with her, against me. Any one else out there a teacher’s child? You know exactly what I mean.

I do have a fond memory or two, linked directly to Scouts. Fishing season always started on the local river April 1, so every March 31 our village Scout troop used to have a sleep-over at the camp. April 1 was our Fishing Derby. Brrr….

The building was split log construction with wooden shuttered windows and huge doors in the front that opened up probably at least 1/3 of the front facade. You stepped into an open space with a huge stone fireplace nearly on the far wall. Behind it was a small kitchen. It was exactly typical of what you would expect for a 1935 camp.

On the sleep-over night our troop – and a few brave fathers – would bring sleeping bags and pillows and settle in. I still remember the crackle and smell of the burning logs in that huge fireplace on those frosty nights. Once the fire was well underway we would eat hot dogs for dinner and well burnt marshmallows for dessert.

Small but wonderful. Photo: Murky1, Flickr ccl
Fishing the next day for me was rather anti-climactic. I seldom caught anything except the telephone lines. I just didn’t have the touch.

Well, the building and fireplace are gone, and all that remains is the plaque on the stone in the clearing. But one thing is usually substituted for another. Nothing stays the same, no matter how much we wish it would.

In this case exactly where the building stood I found a carpet of two culinary plants – wood violets and wild strawberries. I wrote about the violets yesterday. Today it’s the strawberries. I was amazed to see them in bloom so early.

Wild strawberry blossoms are a fantastic discovery, especially if there’s a patch. If you can find a place that will actually give you bang for your picking buck the site is well worth remembering. They won’t be ready for about 6 weeks, but if you spot them now you’ll know where to return.

This pie is about as old-fashioned as you can get.
Wild strawberries are relatives of the cultivated berries so prized every early summer. The difference is that they’re no bigger than the end of your little finger, if you’re lucky. That makes for tedious picking. 

But what they lack in size is more than made up for in taste. Wild strawberries are sweeter and, to my taste, more delicious than their larger cousins. They are usually found only in enough number to make for a pleasant hiking snack. 

So if you find a large patch like I did, remember it well. Also remember you’ll be in competition with the birds and animals for their sweet treasure.

Wild strawberries can be used measure for measure in any recipe that calls for cultivated strawberries. My only caution would be to watch the amount of sugar you use. As I said before, they are definitely sweeter than the cultivated berries. 

Here’s a recipe for you to try with either wild strawberries or store-purchased. This recipe is the same vintage as the old Scout Camp, about 1940.

Butter crust. It has to be pre-baked "blind" so make
sure you prick the bottom and sides well.
Old Fashioned Strawberry Cream Pie*
Time: 1-1/2 hours, includes making crust  |  Chill: at least 3 hours
9” flaky pastry pie shell, pre-baked and cooled
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups whole milk
2 lg egg yolks
1 tbsp chilled butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup whipping cream, whipped
2 cups wild strawberries, washed and hulled*

Make the pie crust and let cool completely before filling.

Place the flour, sugar and salt in a heavy bottomed saucepan and mix well. Slowly whisk in 1 cup of the milk, making sue to keep the mixture smooth. Then add the remaining milk and whisk well.

The "cream."
Place the pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Let it cook, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Make sure none of the cream sticks to the bottom of the pan and scorches. If it does…start over. The cream will taste burnt.

Once the cream is thickened, remove from the heat. In a small bowl whisk 1/2 cup of the cream into the eggs to temper them. then our them back into the cream. Place back on the heat and cook for about 2 minutes.

Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and vanilla and let cool for 5 minutes. (This is an alternate direction: For a lighter pie, whip the heavy cream while the filling is cooling on the counter. Once the filling is cooled, fold in the whipped cream and proceed as directed below.) The usual way is to top the pie with whipped cream, but it's your choice if it's IN it or ON it.

Since it's April I had to use grocery store berries.
It was still great.
Pour half the filling into the prepared pastry shell. Arrange the 2 cups of berries evenly over the surface. Then cover with the remaining cream and let cool.  Then cover with the whipped cream if using the traditional method.

Let cool in the refrigerator until set, about 3 hours and then serve.

If desired, serve with more whipped cream, sweetened with a little sugar and flavoured with vanilla.

* This is also the basic recipe for banana cream and peach cream pie. Just substitute the same amount of those fruit for the strawberries. If using large berries, chop into small pieces and toss with 2 tsp fine sugar.

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